Losing a loved one is an incredibly challenging experience, and witnessing changes in their behavior and well-being can be distressing. As a , I've supported many families and caregivers through this grim time. One common symptom that may arise towards the end of life is . In this article, I will explain the different types of and offer guidance on how to manage them. Understanding these distinctions can provide valuable insights into your loved one's condition and help you navigate the final stages of their life with and care.

Terminal Restlessness, Delirium, and Habitual Restlessness

When someone is nearing the end of their life, they may exhibit restlessness. It's important to recognize that restlessness can have different underlying causes. Let's explore three distinct types: , delirium, and habitual restlessness.

Terminal restlessness refers to a specific type of that occurs in the final stages of life. It can manifest as increased physical activity, restlessness, irritability, or even aggressive behavior. Terminal restlessness is often associated with imminent death and can be distressing for both the patient and their loved ones.


Delirium is a state of acute confusion and mental disorientation. It can cause restlessness, , and changes in behavior. Delirium may arise due to a range of factors such as medications, , dehydration, or the body's natural response to the dying process. Delirium is different from habitual restlessness and terminal restlessness because it is often temporary and can be reversible.

Habitual Restlessness

On the other hand, habitual restlessness is a behavioral pattern that a person may have exhibited throughout their life. This restlessness is not related to the dying process but is a part of their usual temperament or personality. It may manifest as fidgeting, pacing, or other restless behaviors that are characteristic of the individual.

Managing Restlessness

Each type of restlessness requires a unique approach for management. Here are some strategies to help alleviate and support your loved one based on the specific type of restlessness they may be experiencing:

Terminal Restlessness Management

  • Provide a calm and peaceful environment: Create a soothing atmosphere by dimming lights, playing soft music, and ensuring a comfortable temperature in the room.
  • Gentle physical touch: Offer gentle massages or hold your loved one's hand to provide comfort and reassurance.
  • Promote relaxation: Use relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises or guided imagery to help ease restlessness.
  • Medication adjustments: Consult with the hospice team about potential medication adjustments or additional medications to help alleviate restlessness if needed. Often times hospice providers, as part of the comfort medications, will have prescribed liquid lorazepam and liquid morphine to help manage restlessness; some providers will also add in haloperidol (Haldol).

Delirium Management

  • Identify and address underlying causes: Work closely with the healthcare team to identify and address any underlying factors contributing to delirium, such as , , or dehydration.
  • Maintain a calm environment: Reduce noise, minimize environmental triggers, and provide reassurance and comfort through your presence.
  • Ensure hydration and nutrition: Offer small sips of water or ice chips to keep your loved one hydrated. Discuss with the healthcare team if additional nutritional support is necessary.
  • Medication management: Follow the guidance of the healthcare team regarding medications to manage delirium. Medications such as haloperidol may be prescribed to help alleviate symptoms.

Habitual Restlessness Management

  • Respect personal space: Allow your loved one to engage in their habitual restless behaviors as long as they are not causing harm or .
  • Distraction and redirection: Provide engaging activities or redirect their focus to more calming tasks such as listening to music or reading.
  • Encourage regular physical activity: Engaging in light exercise or movement can help channel restless energy in a positive way.

Understanding the Significance of Terminal Restlessness

Terminal restlessness can often indicate that a person is nearing the end of their life. While it's essential to remember that each individual's journey is unique, the presence of terminal restlessness may suggest that the dying process is progressing. Recognizing this symptom can help you prepare emotionally and make any necessary arrangements for the final stages of your loved one's life.

It's important to note that not everyone will experience terminal restlessness, and its absence does not necessarily mean the end is not near. Each person's dying experience is deeply personal and can vary. Hospice professionals are trained to provide guidance and support during this time, so do not hesitate to reach out to them for assistance.


Managing terminal restlessness requires a nuanced understanding of its various forms—terminal restlessness, delirium, and habitual restlessness. By recognizing the distinctions among these types, caregivers and family members can tailor their approach to provide the most effective support during the challenging final stages of a loved one's life.

Terminal restlessness, characterized by heightened physical activity, irritability, and even aggression, often signals the proximity of death. Creating a calm environment, offering gentle physical touch, promoting relaxation, and considering medication adjustments with guidance from the hospice team are key strategies for managing this type of restlessness.

Delirium, a state of acute confusion, may arise from diverse factors such as medications, infections, or dehydration. Unlike terminal restlessness, delirium is often reversible. Managing delirium involves identifying and addressing underlying causes, maintaining a calm environment, ensuring hydration and nutrition, and following healthcare team guidance on medication.

Habitual restlessness, a lifelong behavioral pattern, is unrelated to the dying process. Respecting personal space, providing distraction and redirection, and encouraging regular physical activity are effective ways to manage habitual restlessness.

Understanding the significance of terminal restlessness is crucial, as it can indicate the progression of the dying process. However, it's essential to recognize that each individual's journey is unique, and the absence of terminal restlessness does not necessarily mean the end is not near. Hospice professionals are valuable resources, offering guidance and support during this emotionally charged time. Remember, not everyone will experience terminal restlessness, and hospice teams are equipped to assist in diverse end-of-life scenarios. Reach out to them without hesitation for the assistance needed during this profound and personal experience.


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Terminal restlessness in the completely nonverbal patient

Tips for new nurse — Terminal Restlessness

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Delirium – Symptoms and causes

Delirium in Older Persons: Evaluation and Management

Terminal Restlessness Fact Sheet

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